Simulation-based games have introduced a new realm of possibilities for video game creators, from surgeon simulators to first-person shooting programs. Some creators have decided to use this trend to garner empathy and attention for the important issue of global poverty. Despite 10% of the world living in extreme poverty, sympathy can be difficult for some to experience when they are not aware of the circumstances those living in extreme poverty face day-to-day. As such, simulation games are key to raising awareness and catalyzing change. Some creators have begun to take on the gut-wrenching task of creating poverty-based simulation games meant to simulate the experience of living in extreme poverty.
“It’s just stuff. Until you don’t have it.” The ominous slogan on the beginning page of SPENT perfectly encapsulates the accidental ungratefulness that so many people who live comfortably feel. SPENT spotlights this luckiness for being able to go to a healthcare clinic or afford the rent by forcing players to experience extreme poverty. SPENT gives players $1,000 and 30 days to survive while making necessary purchases such as healthcare and rent. Although this sounds simple, it is anything but. Players must turn down concerts, miss bill deadlines and rely on friends for money. This sheds light on the physical and emotional toll that poverty has on people and how necessary donations are to their well-being.
This poverty-based game was a partnership project between McKinney Advertising Agencies and the Urban Ministries of Durham. SPENT has been played more than four million times in more than 218 countries. At the end of the game, a pop-up reminds players that the hardships they faced in the game are a reality for millions, prompting them to donate through the site. In its first 10 months, SPENT raised $45,000 from 25,000 new donors.
Survive125 is a poverty-based game centered around an impoverished woman, Divya Patel, who lives in India with her four children and a daily salary of $1.25. Players control her life by making impossible decisions such as, “Should you send your teenage daughter to work at a factory (whose potential employer might be a sex trafficker) in order to earn more money?” or, “Should you pull your son out of school every three days in order to get the nearest clean water, which is four hours away?”
Millions of people living in extreme poverty face these questions every day. Each time players answer a question, they lose or gain money and points. The goal is to survive 30 days without running out of money or points. Live 58, a nonprofit organization working to end global poverty, developed this simulation. Live 58 is comprised of 10 charities that work to end global poverty by raising awareness through projects such as the game Survive125. While Survive125 doesn’t have a donation component or statistics, it is making an impact by raising awareness and giving people the opportunity to walk a mile in Divya Patel’s shoes.
This War of Mine
This War of Mine may be a war game, but it starkly differs from its counterparts in one main aspect: the perspective. While most war games such as Call of Duty focus on a heavily militant and violent storyline from the point of view of a soldier, This War of Mine revolves around impoverished civilians in war-torn countries fighting to survive. This poverty-based game simulates an all too common situation in which war impacts innocent children and citizens. Characters search for food, shelter, medical help and safety from bombs, introducing a new angle not seen in war games.
Another interesting take in this game is the idea of mood as a surviving factor; if a character becomes depressed, their work slows, and they suffer negative effects. This factor of depression is prominent in stressful environments such as in a country impacted by war but is often overlooked in mental health care.
Along with raising awareness, the creators of the game, 11 Bit Studios, partnered with War Child, a British organization that helps children in areas of conflict, to raise donations. Through this partnership, they created downloadable content by utilizing the art of graffiti artists who created war-themed artwork. All of the proceeds from the third of these poverty-based simulation games went directly to War Child, ultimately adding up to $500,000 as of 2018. The donation went toward war-torn countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. The proceeds support different projects, notably temporary learning centers, a child helpline and a division of War Child that works specifically with gamers.
Fighting to End Extreme Poverty
In a world where technology replaces human connection, games that remind people of empathy can bridge the gap created by a technological world. New methods, like poverty-based simulation games, appeal to large demographics and rekindle the spirit of generosity in a unique way.
– Mariam Abaza